Festival of Nine Lessons @ UWI

The Christmas season is traditionally celebrated at the UWI with gatherings and concerts but most solemnly with one of four annual official services: the Festival of Nine Lessons with Carols which packs the University Chapel on the second Sunday of December at 7pm. The Cave Hill campus also celebrates it and,since 2008, there has been a similar service in Montego Bay, for the UWI Mona Western Jamaica Campus.

The first University (then, University College) of the West Indies service of Christmas words and music was held on the Mona playing field in 1948. According to Dr Keith McKenzie, one of the 33 pioneering students, it was the idea of fellow-undergraduate Owen Minott and Dr Minott’s widow Margaret recalls him saying that their group organized it.

The University Archive, in a 2013 blogpost, notes that the service was moved to the University Chapel after that structure was completed in 1959. For years, the service has been patterned after the Festival of Nine Lessons with Carols at Kings College, Cambridge University in the UK. It begins with the processional hymn ‘Once in Royal David’s City’. It includes three lessons read by members of the student body and others by staff; as well as carols sung by the Chapel Choir and by the choir and congregation, a sermon, and a recessional hymn.

The UWI Archives noted: “In the 1960s, The Festival of Nine Lessons with Carols was broadcast live on radio in Jamaica and recordings were distributed around the Caribbean for airplay during the Yuletide Season.  In a  February 1964 letter to the UWI’s Public Relations Officer, Cedric Lindo, the Programme Director at Radio Jamaica and Rediffusion,  John Colley, relayed reports of how popular the Festival was around the Caribbean.  The Trinidad Broadcasting Company stated “the programmes… sent [to] us were very well received…” The Barbados Rediffusion Service “considered the “Festival of Lessons and Carols” to be excellent and broadcast it on the 28th December [1963] at 10pm”.  The British Guiana United Broadcasting Service “were very pleased with the quality of the Festival of Lessons and Carols” and broadcasted it on Christmas Eve…” Radio Caribbean—St Lucia also shared similar sentiments.”

To hear excerpts from the 1964 festival, follow this link to the UWI Archives blog:https://uwiarchives.wordpress.com/2013/12/20/from-our-records-the-festival-of-nine-lessons-with-carols-at-the-uwi/

Anyone who’s been involved or just has memories of the service, please weigh in.

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